Terms of reference

No, not the panel of reference, that mythical Anglican creation whose job is to do precisely nothing, but terms of reference.  What does each side in the Anglican wars (and wider afield) call each other?

OK, I know this isn’t the most important thing in the world and that it’s been discussed before but nevertheless this is my muse for today.  I promise you I shall try and get to some more prophetic type stuff in the near future.

The traditional labels used have been ‘conservative‘ and ‘liberal‘ to denote each side.  There are plenty of people who don’t like this for various reasons and I’m one of them.  The trouble with being ‘conservative’ is that suddenly you are tarred with this particular image.  Me, I tend to be conservative socially, economically I’m a bit of both, I support the hot-button issues like AIDS and poverty that are normally defined as ‘liberal’, and I doubt the wisdom of the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan.  I could go on, but I hope you get the point.

The other thing with ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ is that it has particular cultural and political meanings in N America that are different elsewhere.  The words do not always translate as you might wish (I’m British and I often see the words  being used in a very local way).

So what are our alternatives?  One currently in use is the reasserter/reappraiser label.  It’s an admirable attempt to find some kind of neutral descriptive words.  However it suffers very much from that same neutrality – this is most emphatically not a theoretical academic discourse that we are having right now.  There are fundamental truths and worldviews involved.

Apart from that, it suffers from the ‘hold on a minute, what am I again?’ syndrome.  Well OK, it does for me anyway.

Then there are the descriptors that are used by both sides when referring to the other.  On ‘my’ side heretic, heterodox and other terms are used that, while having the advantage of being generally true, tend to be best used in-house.  And, yes, there are some terms used by ‘us’ that I’ll not repeat here but that are just plain unnecessary.  VOL and in particular some of his commenter’s are good examples of that. In either case these terms don’t generally facilitate conversation.

Now, the ‘other’ side are the same, referring to us as fundamentalist, extremist (one of Jakes favorite terms).  Interestingly enough I have noticed a definite uptick in the amount of vitriol, scorn and barely disguised hate emanating from some progressive (there’s another word) websites.  According to one lady we are evil. Now, the last example is a little extreme and it appears that she may not be entirely well (meant just as said and not as sarcasm) however it illustrates a trend. 

Anyway, I digress.  The main point here are there are terms used in-house that do not go down so well should one need to talk to the ‘other side’.

The same point can be made with self-descriptors ‘orthodox‘, ‘progressive‘ etc.  Works well in-house, but not as conversation pieces.

So what are you saying Peter?  That you would like your cake and eat it?  That you would like a description that honours the truth whilst facilitating conversation?  Yes – I would.  The impossible is all that I’m asking for.

In the past these things have been defined by the key figures – Arianism as an example.  So, what would we be here then?  I’ve seen one commenter refer to us as Duncanites.  Therefore, could we refer to them as Griswoldians?  Or Schorians?  Or because I’m north of the border as Hutchinites (with us as Harvians)?  The trouble is here is that there is no one key figure that we can latch onto, so it kind of falls flat again.

Ah, heck.  Perhaps we’ll just have to be conservatives and liberals for now, at least for cross-communication.  But I don’t like it and I thought you needed to know, ahem.

The conclusion – it’ll probably be history that will eventually decide the labels, not us in the trenches here and now.  So with that, I’ll bid you adieu!

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7 Responses to Terms of reference

  1. Pauline Bettney says:

    “Tis a conumdrum. I always said I was a Christian in the Anglican tradition. I haven’t moved so I am not sure how to label myself.


  2. Pauline Bettney says:

    ..sorry spelling..conundrum..just too clever for words. If you take away power from the Gospel of Jesus Christ then isn’t that regressive not progressive?


  3. Peter says:

    Indeed – problem is the ‘other side’ are also Christians in the Anglican tradition. We could call them regressives, but I’m not sure that’s going to work much better 😉

    We use the same words but by them often mean very different things. Unpacking that difference is also a very tricky business. Hmm, what tangled webs we weave….


  4. Pauline Bettney says:

    I think for myself I will go with Orthodox Christian – holding correct beliefs (Oxford Dictionary). The reasserter/reappraiser labels are so confusing – I can never remember which is is which! After being called a fundamentalist I replied that every belief system is based on certain fundamental beliefs, even humanism.


  5. Dr. Mabuse says:

    I’ve never been able to settle down to any satisfactory terms for the differing sides in this fracas. “Reappraiser/reasserter” are popular now, and they have the advantage of focussing more narrowly on questions of authority and tradition, which is where the dispute is right now. My problem with them is that they LOOK almost identical; I’ve often misread sentences because I’ve taken one term for its opposite, and I’ve had to go back and re-read then think, “‘Reappraiser’ – which side is that again? Oh, yes, they’re the ones who are “taking a new look” at everything. Ergo, they’re liberals.” They just don’t work well for me, though I use them sometimes. I don’t like words that slow down and complicate thought instead of streamlining it.

    We then have the additional problem of people deliberately fogging meaning by refusing to acquiesce to the other side’s terms. Hence, the use of sneer quotes – “the so-called ‘Global South'” is one I came across a few days ago. So people aren’t even allowed to choose what to call THEMSELVES – how are we ever to agree on a set of terms when everyone is jockeying for some sort of advantage?

    So I just fall back on the basic old “conservative/liberal”, or even “Right/Left”. They don’t properly fit the situation, but maybe the best we can do is have rough definitions that are so familiar that they’ve pretty much been stripped of any emotional content.


  6. Peter says:

    I’ve tried calling myself orthodox on liberal sites, and they won’t have that either.

    So yes, perhaps conservative/liberal is all we have to use right now – though as we’ve all said, it leaves a lot to be desired…..


  7. Pingback: A tragic necessity « The Age To Come

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